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Background Information

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The pentathlon (as opposed to the modern pentathlon) was an athletic event in the Olympic Games and other Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece. The name derives from Greek words for "five competitions." The five events were stadion (a short foot race), wrestling, which were also held as separate events, and the long jump, javelin throw and discus throw, which were not held as separate events then. Pentathletes were considered to be among the most skilled athletes, and their training was often part of military service—each of the five events was thought to be useful in battle.

In ancient olympics

The winner of the stadion was considered the champion of the entire Games, and was often the only name remembered in connection with a particular Games, especially during the earliest period. If the same man won the long jump, discus throw, and javelin throw, there was no need to hold the stadion and wrestling events, although they would still be held separately. Wrestling was held in a sand pit, at the Olympic Games outside the Temple of Zeus, while the other events were all held in the stadion (or stadium) from which the name of the race was taken. Wrestling and the discus throw had essentially the same rules as their modern versions (although the actual technique used by the athletes might have been a bit different), but the others had slight differences. The javelin throw used a leather strap, called an amentum, rather than having the athlete grip the shaft of the javelin itself. The stadion was a sprint of approximately 200 yards (or about 180 meters), longer than the modern 100 meter sprint, but shorter than all other ancient running events.

The long jump is perhaps the most unusual, compared to the modern version. A long jumper used weights called halteres to propel himself farther out of standing, and his jump probably consisted of five separate leaps, more like the modern triple jump; otherwise, distances of known jumps (which are often as far as 50 feet) would seem to be impossible.

Competitors in the javelin and discus throws were allowed five throws each, and only their longest throw would count. It is possible that the long jump was also done five times.

In the classical games, it was traditional for all of these events to be performed in the nude.

In modern Olympics

In addition to the Modern Pentathlon, there has also been an athletics pentathlon event for women in the modern Olympic Games. The first Olympic competition was at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The events of the pentathlon, in order, were:

  1. 80 meter hurdles
  2. Shot put
  3. High jump
  4. Long jump
  5. 200 meters

The javelin and the 800 meters were added in the 1984 Summer Olympics to create the women's heptathlon. The hurdles race also became 100 meters.

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